Framework for Revival from the First Great Awakening

Framework for Revival from the First Great Awakening

Students of the First Great Awakening often recognize the names of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield as the key leaders. However, it was a less famous pastor who arrived on the shores of America in 1720 that began to shake up the churches in the new world. The Lord used this courageous pastor to help lay the foundation for the coming awakening.

Theodore Frelinghuysen Launched Revival

Both Edwards and Whitefield pointed back to a Dutch Reformed pastor Theodore Jacobus Frelinghuysen. Whitefield referred to Frelinghuysen in his fifth journal in 1739 as the genesis of the Awakening. “He is a worthy old Soldier of JESUS CHRIST, and was the Beginner of the great Work which I trust the Lord is carrying on in these Parts.”[1] In his personal accounts of the Awakening, Jonathan Edwards mentioned the work of Frelinghuysen in relation to the broader movement of God, “There was no small degree of it in some part of the Jerseys. . . under the ministry of a very pious young gentlemen, a Dutch minister, whose name as I remember was Freeling housa.”[2]

Six Key Components of Frelinghuysen’s Ministry

  1. Bold, Gospel-focused Preaching – Frelinghuysen shunned the formal reserved preaching style of his contemporaries for extemporaneous, free flowing messages. He preached bold, gospel-focused sermons that frequently called for clear repentance. To the dismay of many of his parishioners, his messages focused on salvation because he believed many of them were lost.
  2. Authenticity in Worship – Frelinghuysen insisted on authenticity in worship. For example, he abandoned the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in every worship service, in deference to spontaneous, heart-felt prayers.
  3. Regenerate Church Membership – Frelinghuysen insisted that his church members display evidence of repentance rooted in a changed heart. In his sermon, The Way of God with His People in the Sanctuary, he proclaimed “You who are ungodly and unconverted must realize that the ways of God are indignation and wrath to every soul that does evil. Your sins remain unpardoned and are treasured up to add to your condemnation.”
  4. Biblical Church Discipline – Frelinghuysen fearlessly used church discipline and exclusion from the Lord’s Supper to encourage faithfulness to the doctrinal principles that he fiercely preached. Ecclesiastical Records of the State of New York suggested that Frelinghuysen was not afraid to invoke the third and fourth steps of church disciple for those who continued to create division in the body. In a series of correspondence sent from Frelinghuysen’s supporting elders and those who created division, one can track desire for reconciliation.
  5. Small Group Devotional Meetings – Small group private devotional meetings became a key part of Frelinghuysen’s ministry in the Raritan Valley. These groups consisted of only those who Frelinghuysen believed to be truly born-again. The meetings were not open to the public as were the regular worship services. They were private prayer meetings held in homes and designed for mutual spiritual examination and edification. Through these meetings, Frelinghuysen focused on spiritual growth and training of his flock.
  6. Equipping Lay Leaders to Evangelize and Teach – Using the small group meetings, Frelinghuysen trained trustworthy leaders to share their faith and preach the Gospel. He went against the conventional thought of his time by raising up lay helpers who could shoulder the load of disciple-making. His helpers led new small groups and filled the pulpit at times, effectively multiplying the work of their pastor.

Courageous Pastors are Needed Today

Frelinghuysen’s courageous pastoral leadership is needed in the modern church.  As a pastor, he loved his people enough to challenge their weak faith and insufficient doctrine. The six components of his ministry that lead to revival are all rooted in biblical truth. These are timeless and they could be implemented in any church. He was not universally loved and many leaders challenged his methods from inside and outside his congregations. But, he was mightily used of God. The Lord may very well use a pastor with the courage and conviction of Frelinghuysen, who is willing to challenge the status quo of his local congregation, to lay the groundwork for great revival in the 21st century.


[1] George Whitefield, The Journals of George Whitefield (Shropshire, England: Quinta, 2009), 431.

[2] Jonathan Edwards, A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Works of God (New York: Dunning & Spalding, 1832), 45.

{This blog was adapted from a PhD seminar paper submitted by the same author, Dennis Hester, in the Spring 2017. The full paper can be found here.}

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